Dawn at Sunrise

Asteroid Vesta

Asteroid Vesta

   This NASA picture of the day is from the NASA/JPL Dawn mission now more or less at the halfway point. The picture is a beautiful mosaic of asteroid Vesta showing an incredible amount of detail in surface features. Vesta is the third largest object in the main asteroid belt, following Ceres (now a Dwarf Planet) and Pallas. Vesta was the first of two stops that the Dawn spacecraft has been scheduled to make. Having left Vesta during September 2012 after a one-year visit to Vesta the Dawn spacecraft is now on its way to the largest object in the main belt – Dwarf Planet Ceres. Arrival at Ceres will be during spring of 2015.

   Click on the picture of Vesta to go to the press release page, or click here to go to the Dawn mission web site for more information, multimedia, and resources for educators, parents (the same!), and kids.

Click on image to see full size.

Click on image to see full size.

   This graphic shows a view looking eastward at 11 UT, (6 am CDT). on 1 October. There are a number of objects of interest all of which are staggered in a stair-step pattern toward the horizon. (Not shown because it is higher above the horizon is Jupiter near the Gemini Twins.)
   The very thin 26-day old waning crescent Moon is close to the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. Regulus is the bottom of a group of stars arranged in a backward question mark. Can you find those stars?.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   Further down the ‘stairs’ are Vesta and Ceres. Vesta is at about 7th magnitude, while Ceres is at 8th magnitude, this means that both are too dim to be seen with the naked-eye. However just looking toward that area and knowing that we have a spacecraft that is traveling from one to the other is kind of cool. However #2 is that with a telescope or time exposure pictures a person would be able to see and follow the asteroids as they slowly move along their respective orbital paths. These two are located near the three stars forming the triangle-shaped backside of the Lion, a shape recognizable by anyone familiar with the constellation.
   As an added bonus Comet ISON is right along side of Mars. Although currently too dim in magnitude for naked-eye or binocular/small telescope viewing a person could start their personal observations of the comet as it moves toward perihelion in November, and then possibly put on a good display during December. Viewing this same part of the sky at about the same time you can follow the comet as its path takes it past Vesta and Ceres during the first week of November.

   I’ll periodically post about the comet including describing my digital camera photography attempts, however there are many easily found places on the web with information about the comet.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

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